Austin

Drivers with autism encouraged to put extra info on license

AUSTIN (KXAN) -- A new public service announcement was unveiled urging drivers with autism to consider applying for a note on their driver's license that informs law enforcement about potential interaction challenges. The video message informs Texans about the "communication impediment" restriction code.

Samuel Allen, who is on the autism spectrum, said having the marker on his driver's license feels "like a big safety net," and makes him more comfortable when he gets in his car.

"If I showed [it] to the officer, they are going to know that I have autism or some kind of impediment that will keep me from communicating properly with the officer," Allen explained.

Legislation was passed in the last session that took effect in September, allowing brochures and posters highlighting the "communication impediment" code, in large part due to work done by Aspergers101, which Allen's mother Jennifer founded.

"I'm just a mom of a son with autism that I want him to be protected, and it just happened to be there are open doors to make policy changes that make commonsense," Jennifer Allen said. She added that she worried about her son being pulled over or having some other need to interact with an officer, and not having the tools necessary to successfully navigate those challenges.

"We can't rely on other cards and things that they can reach and give to an officer of the law because that could be misconstrued as they're reaching for a weapon, so if it's directly on the driver's license then that is indeed a safety net," she stated.

In order to qualify, drivers must complete a Physicians Statement Form (DL101) and submit it with a new driver's license application to your local driver's license office. Registration is optional. The Texas Governor's Committee on People with Disabilities (GCPD) has worked alongside Aspergers101 and the Texas Department of Public Safety to include the "communication impediment" phrase on licenses of drivers who qualify.

"As families are finding out about this initiative they are taking a second look at driver independence for their family member who is on the autism spectrum," GCPD executive director Ron Lucey explained. "Transportation independence for Texans with disabilities is critical in order for them to participate in the workforce or live independently in the community."

Allen said he feels at ease driving to work and school, knowing that an officer would understand his perspective if he has an encounter.

"Having that feeling of independence is a big stepping stone for someone with autism or someone with a communication impediment," Allen explained.

The Allens mentioned the initiative aims to expand to people who have other challenges, like deafness, Parkinson's disease or a "bad stutter." The program was endorsed by Dr. Temple Grandin, who is a professor and advocate for people on the autism spectrum, such as herself.

"It is really a good step forward, that the State of Texas has put communication impediment on the driver's license," Grandin said. "People who have autism, Asperger's head injuries, strokes, stuttering, or down syndrome, can all have the problem of being slow to respond, and a police officer needs to realize that he needs to wait for this person to respond, and if he gets kind of aggressive, then the person has a tendency to freeze."

Lucey said he was pleased the initiative is available to Texans who do not have driver's licenses as well, like state ID card holders, because, "there's lots of interactions between law enforcement and Texans with disabilities out on the street."

The Allens have worked to train police departments as part of the program.

Jennifer Allen said she and her son have worked with DPS trooper recruits in Austin, San Antonio police officers and various other departments statewide, "for them to understand that communication impediment does not mean and aggressive behavior."

She said she hoped to work with lawmakers in the next legislative session to include the "communication impediment" information in the system that officers use to run license plates, with the idea that they would know the driver might have a difficulty with communication before even being pulled over.


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